As an apartment owner, you may have considered banning smoking inside your rental property, but you’ve hesitated until you learn more about the legality and benefits of such a decision.

If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone! 

A recent survey of nearly 100 apartment owners and managers in Los Angeles conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research showed that there is a lot of support for no-smoking policies. Some reasons given by landlords for not already having a smoke-free policy included not knowing they could do it, believing rent-control laws restrict adoption of such policies or not having enough information about this issue.

“The survey results show a need to educate and inform property owners about smoke-free policies,” said Marlene Gomez, project manager of Smokefree Apartments Los Angeles (SALA).

“Also, there’s a need to increase collaboration among property owners, tenant groups and government agencies to protect the health of renters from exposure to secondhand smoke.”

SALA is a Centers for Disease Control-funded initiative led by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research that focuses on working with apartment owners and tenants to implement voluntary bans on smoking in Los Angeles apartments. The goal is to protect vulnerable populations like children, the elderly, and persons with chronic illnesses from being exposed to secondhand smoke, as well as protect property owners from liability.

In California, property owners are legally permitted to adopt and enforce a smoke-free policy, but, they must also comply with citywide policies such as the Los Angeles’ rent-control law. In apartments that fall under that ordinance, an owner can ask existing tenants to voluntarily stop smoking on the premises.

However, the owner cannot require existing tenants to sign a lease addendum with that provision. Any new tenant can be required to comply with a no-smoking policy enforced by the lease. It’s important to notify existing tenants that you are transitioning the building to a no-smoking policy. Most of your tenants will welcome it since most California adults don’t smoke. It’s also important to identify smoking-permitted units so that prospective tenants who would be vulnerable to exposure can choose not to move into an apartment next to a smoking-permitted unit.

According to the UCLA survey, 63% of apartment owners didn’t have any kind of smoke-free housing policy in place at their properties. When asked about their support for various levels of non-smoking policies, the majority of owners, including those with and without smoke-free policies, favored restricting smoking on their properties.

Many owners without smoke-free policies were supportive of banning smoking: 72% for enclosed common areas, 54% for outdoor common areas and 55% for all units, including balconies and patios. It should be noted that enclosed common areas are required by state law to be non-smoking. It’s helpful to post no-smoking signs in lobbies and laundry areas.

Most surveyed owners also reported they understood the high costs associated with smoking in their properties. A recent study conducted in California indicated that the average cost to maintain and turn over a smoked-in unit for the next resident is $4,935 per apartment. In the UCLA survey, about six out of 10 owners identified tobacco smoke as a dangerous substance that creates a potential liability for owners. Many owners also said having a smoke-free policy didn’t hinder their ability to fill available vacancies.

Another UCLA survey of nearly 1,000 Los Angeles apartment residents showed four out of five tenants, including more than half of those who are smokers, supported a smoke-free policy in common areas or individual apartments. In addition, approximately 37 percent of respondents reported that secondhand smoke had drifted into their apartments in the past year.

It’s noteworthy to know that most tenants exposed to secondhand smoke don’t complain, because they don’t think anything will be done, or they don’t want to create friction with their neighbors or landlords.

“Our findings send a strong message to property owners that renters don’t want to be breathing a neighbor’s tobacco smoke in their homes,” Gomez said. “Tenants want clean air in their apartment homes and common areas. Landlords recognize that it pays to be smoke-free due to the extra expense and potential liability of permitting smoking. That’s why smoke-free apartment living is a win-win for landlords and tenants alike.” 

For assistance on how you can implement smoke-free policies in your apartment community, please call 310-794-0950, or email smokefreeApartmentLivingLA@em.ucla.edu. For more information about SALA, please visit www.SmokeFreeAptsLA.org.